Consultants – Part 5: Faux Consulting Alternatives

Many alternatives to getting the job done are performed by professionals that have “borrowed” the term consulting for their business cards or letterhead. Some of these are thinly veiled sales pitches that use the bait of free expert advice along with an expensive product or service. I call these “faux” consultants instead of “fake” because it sounds classier and is less offensive to groups of people I have arbitrarily grouped together. Some in fact are extremely valuable and offer expertise that is much less expensive than a true consultancy. Don’t expect full service cross functional meshing of all facets of a project, but the expert advice will most assuredly be on target for the segment being optimized. That makes it much easier to fix other aspects with in-house resources.

There is a broad spectrum of faux consulting experts available.  

 Vendors – Purchasing a system or new software package from a seller must come with a negotiated installation and training package. These are usually contracted for a specified period of time and renewal or re-upping for support will be at additional cost. The better vendor agents will have a limited warranty on their product, but read the fine print. Interface with legacy or other systems is usually the responsibility of the buyer.

Contingent Workforce – This is not a new concept, but the sagging economy has increased this group to record proportions. This group has grown from less than 1% of the workforce 20 years ago to a number estimated to go over 30% by the end of 2013. There are basically three distinct segments of the contingency workforce.

  1. Outsourced Functions – This has moved far beyond contracting with Pitney Bowes to run the mail room and local IT firms to provide desktop support. Today RPO’s are gaining ground on taking over company recruiting functions, financial processing is being moved offshore, and some key R&D functions are being provided by contact firms. Employees laid off from companies in a soft economy are finding a home in these businesses instead of becoming full-time employment elsewhere.
  2. Independent Contractors – Many human resources departments are still wary of hiring contractors on a 1099 because they don’t understand or misunderstand what co-employment means. The fear of liability notwithstanding, many experts can be hired as an independent contributor on contract for a limited time without any benefits obligations. To maintain an “arms length” relationship, the entire contractor population many be contracted to an outsourced job shop firm.
  3. Temp Employees – Many traditional temp agencies were born out of the need to bring in qualified talent for a short term to cover vacations, maternity leave, or other gap insurance for continuity. There is a trend toward companies being reluctant to hire full time employees for the long term because of uncertainties in the economy and fear over health care obligations. As a result, many FTE positions are being filled by temps and the result is a try-before-you-buy mentality regarding selection of new employees at a later time.

Bona Fide Interims – Buyer beware. There are many talented professionals that are searching for employment in a tough market and have declared themselves to be consultants to hide the gap on their resume. A laid off human resources generalist is not a recruiting expert. A gold watch accountant is not a financial advisor. A former quality control technician is not an auditor. Looking beyond the fact that they present themselves in a somewhat disingenuous manner, this is not always a lost cause. Tearing down the façade may be difficult, but there is value in this pool. You always get what you pay for, but if you select one of these professionals after careful consideration and reference checking you may have found not only a diamond in the rough interim consultant, but a possible future employee as well.

This is the final installment of a five part series on consultants, but it is far from being an ultimate answer to all questions or an unchangeable reference for more than a few minutes… well, hopefully longer than that. I would write more, but I have to stop now to prepare for the Waste Disposal Consultant to empty my trash can.

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